problem of evil

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Book Review: “Learning to Jump Again” by Anthony Weber

Anthony Weber’s work, Learning to Jump Again, is part memoir of a lost father, part philosophical treatise on the problem of suffering. The focus throughout is Weber’s father and the issues with mourning, suffering, and heroism his life and death brought up.

The book starts with “the Journal”–a series of entries from Weber’s journal during the time surrounding the death of his father. As one who is very close to his father, these entries truly struck home. There were many moments where this reader just lost it in tears. Weber does not hold back, at all. His father was suffering from jaundice due to cancer. He writes, “A friend stopped by that weekend to borrow some tools, and I stammered through an explanation of why my visiting father was yellow… He [the friend] knew that after the fall comes winter, and after the chill comes the cold, and he was mercifully silent” (2).

Weber does not restrict the period of mourning or the discussion thereof to the months immediately surrounding his father’s death; rather, the Journal contains entries as far as eight years (and later) after his father’s death. Christians reading the book are forced to the realization that it is not easy to struggle through these issues. When a beloved father dies, it is not something that passes with the seasons. Even eight years later, he wrote of his withholding himself from his wife and children, and the realization that came with it that he must trust in God, “even if I don’t always understand him” (76-78).

Yet the journal section is not merely a reflection. Weber shares lessons and thoughts he has on mourning, God, and the reality of pain in the world throughout his memoirs. He notes that too many people know about God without knowing God (72-73); refers to the experiences of wrestling God (45); and contrasts the ways and beliefs of “the flesh” with that of reality (33). Throughout this section, there is much for readers to take away.

The second part of the book focuses on the issues behind suffering and the Christian worldview. Weber’s discussion is an admirably easy-to-read introduction to many of the philosophical issues surrounding the problem of evil and other issues. In particular, his discussions of emotions, dreams, and prayer in particular offered a number of insights that readers will be interested in reading more about. Weber included a lot of resources for interested readers to explore, so the book serves as a valuable resource in that regard as well. His discussion of the problem of pain does an excellent job introducing difficult notions like distinguishing between types of the problem of evil (122ff). His discussion of the various possible routes theists can take to discuss the problem of evil is also brief but informative.

Throughout the book there are numerous quotes from various authors. Many of these are novelists such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Dean Koontz, Shakespeare, and C.S. Lewis. Others are from people like Helen Keller, Phillip Yancey, and Scripture. These quotes are often profound and fit the context perfectly. As a reader, this reviewer admits to frequently skimming past quotes when I see them in texts, particularly when they are out of context, but with Learning to Jump Again, the quotes all draw out new emotions, thoughts, and ideas very well. They add to, rather than distract from, the text.

Learning to Jump Again was a bit of a surprise for me. The section of the book that was a memoir served poignantly to draw readers into the heart of a mourning man. But it did not leave readers with that; rather, Weber constantly struggled with issues that Christians at all stages must deal with. Further, the philosophical section which encompassed the latter part of the book is an excellent survey of a number of issues. Many will benefit from the insights Weber provides. The book tugs at the heart strings and gets the mind working. Readers who have already extensively explored the issues of the latter part of the book will benefit from viewing the issues in the context of a memoir. Those who have not will benefit greatly from the discussion throughout the book. I recommend it very highly.

SDG.

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On September 11th, 2001, harmless things became fearful

There is a day that is burned into the memory of a generation–a day in which so many things we thought were harmless were turned against us.  On September 11th, 2001, the United States was attacked by terrorists who flew planes into our buildings. The World Trade Center collapsed as we watched. We listened with pride about the men and women on United Airlines Flight 93 who died in order to prevent another attack.

We found out later box cutters were used to take over the airplanes. It was airplanes–a mere form of transportation–which were used to cause so much destruction. Harmless things became weapons.

But what does it all mean? How are we to come away from such an event unscathed? Something as simple as a box cutter was used against us. Can we trust anything? Is the person who invented the box cutter to blame? What about the manufacturer? What of the airplanes? Should we never fly again?

I can’t help but think about the ultimate when I am faced with the immediate. And the ultimate leads me to think of God. God created our universe, and as He created, He called each new creation “good” (see Genesis 1:4ff). But bad things started happening fairly quickly. Sin entered the world, and it wasn’t long before we had genocides, racism, hatred, terrorism, hunger, and you name it. The evils perpetuated by man would take too long to enumerate, and we can easily think of more.

Ultimately, God created the world as “good.” It was we who turned these good things against each other, it is we who actively seek to hurt, harm, and destroy each other. It is our free will that has turned things which are good into things used for evil.

On this 10th anniversary of 9/11… I sit back and ponder such things. It’s easy to throw blame around when we think about evil. It would be easiest to blame God. “Why don’t you prevent these evils, God?” But then we forget about the kinds of things God made, and how He only made them good.

The question is not: “Why did God create these things [free will, among others]?” The question is “Why have we used these things for evil?”

Links

“Are We All Moral Monsters?” Clay Jones looks at how 9/11 has awakened us to mortality in new ways.

Simply Incoherent– Christopher Hitchens argues that 9/11 is evil. But on his ontology, evil makes no sense.

9/11 ‘Full cognitive meltdown’ and its fallout

From Ground Zero to 10 Years Later–September 11, 2011– a reflection on 9/11

Did God Allow the Attacks on 9/11 for a “Greater Good”?– A post writing against ‘greater good’ theodicies. Not sure I agree entirely, but I think there are some great difficulties with the ‘greater good’ theodicy which Erik Manning draw out.

Where was God on 9/11?– A reflection on 9/11 along with a point-by-point critique of Rabbi Kushner’s response to 9/11.

Do all roads (and flights) lead to God?– A critique of religious pluralism.

Two Ground Zeros– From the horrors of 9/11 to the hope of Christ.

Suffering and the Cross of Christ– Christ helps us explain suffering.

America After 9/11, Is Religion Evil?– Is it?

Where was God on 9/11?

Atheism, Evil, and Ultimate Justice– God will provide ultimate justice.

Ground Zero: Why truth matters more than preventing another 9/11 style attack

Divine Commands Post 9/11

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Evil and God: Analytic Counters to the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is one of the most commonly pushed objections to the existence of God.There have been, historically, two major ways this problem is presented. The first way is to suggest that evil and God are logically incompatible. The second way argues that evil reduces the probability of God’s existence.

The suggestion that evil and God are logically incompatible has been largely abandoned in recent scholarship due to the writings of theistic philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga. Atheistic philosophers who had pressed such a problem have largely abandoned such argumentation in favor of the second method–the probabilistic problem of evil (see Rowe, Draper, Mackie, etc. to see atheistic turnabout on this subject). It is widely acknowledged that there is no logical incompatibility (in the sense that it is a logical contradiction) for there to exist an omni-benevolent God and evil (Plantinga, 461).

Thus, the argument has turned to probabilistic arguments against the existence of God. These arguments often are something like, “Given the great amount of evil in the world, it seems unlikely that God [here meaning the God of Classical Theism] exists.” Given some amount of evil, E, it seems as though the probability that God exists is lower than .5 (50%). There are many problems with such arguments. I have argued this elsewhere (see here) , but there are further arguments I’d like to expand upon.

First, one major problem with such arguments is to figure out some way to measure evil (hereafter E). How do we objectively measure the amount of E in the world? But then this leads us to a second problem: if we can measure the amount of E in the world, what amount of E is such that the existence of God (call it “T” for theism) is unlikely? Where is the mark at which T is more likely than not, given E?

But apart from even these problems, there is the fact that some rather simple explanations or defenses can be used by theists. For example, the theist could assert that as long as there is any amount of good in the world, T is more likely than not. This doesn’t seem quite fair, so the theist could rather assert that given any E, there is the possibility that God utilizes E for good. But this may be unconvincing as well. There are still other “outs” for the theist.

Perhaps the most interesting and insightful defenses from this kind of problem of evil was made by Alvin Plantinga in the essential work, Warranted Christian Belief. He argues, utilizing a “multiverse” type of scenario:

“…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the worlds… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good over evil. In some worlds there is no suffering and evil; in some a great deal; as it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds where there is a good deal. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low” (Plantinga, 473).

This defense is almost joyfully simple, yet it reveals a looming problem for the anti-theist wielding the problem of evil. There are indeed countless scenarios just like this, or at least similar to it, in which theism has a “way out.” Plantinga mentions these throughout the same work (see pages 458-499).

There are other ways to defend against such arguments, however. The assertion is that the existence of some amount of E lowers T, given E. But of course the theist can easily grant this and simply argue that on the basis of their own background knowledge (hereafter “k”), the probability of T given E and k is quite high. Plantinga argues for the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, an assertion with which I stand in agreement (Plantinga, 290 and following). But we need not even appeal to a notion that will be as highly disputed as this.

For perhaps the theist has the belief that the cosmological argument seems plausible, or the ontological argument is quite convincing (as here), or perhaps they believe that the other alternatives (the other theistic religions, pantheism, naturalism, paganism, spiritualism, etc.) are even less likely than T. But then the theist has a high probability of T given k, even if the theist acknowledges that T’s probability given E is lower than before.

It then follows that the theist is justified in maintaining such theistic belief even in light of the problem of evil, for on k and E, they still believe there is a high probability that T is true.

Source:

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford. 2000.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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